Published December 22, 2011
| Sports Network
The latest Bay Area basketball reboot kicks off under the touted ex-point guard hoping to turn a team that finished 10 games under .500 last season into a playoff contender.
There is plenty of skill on hand in Golden State with Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry in the backcourt along with rebounding machine David Lee up front.
Jackson, however, was brought in to teach this team to play defense and show toughness along with discipline, things that have been sorely lacking in a Don Nelson/Keith Smart created culture.
Now it's all about Jackson's famous defensive phrase as an analyst in Oakland this season. It's all about "Hand Down Man Down."
To that end the team flirted with bringing in Clippers center DeAndre Jordan and did sign the shot-blocking machine to a four-year, $40 million dollar offer sheet before LA eventually matched. Plan B turned out to be another solid low post defender in Kwame Brown.
If Brown can erase some of the perimeter defense mistakes that are sure to be crop up since Golden State has so many offensive-minded players dotting the roster, Jackson and the Warriors may point things toward the postseason sooner rather than later.
Things got a little more complicated, however, when a former team employee named Erika Smith sued Ellis, claiming he "sexually harassed, intimidated and stalked" her for several months beginning last year. In addition, Smith is also suing the Warriors for failure to prevent harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination and intentional infliction of distress, among other charges.
Rick Welts, Golden State's president and CEO, quickly defended his organization while at the same time paying deference to the seriousness of the charges.
"The Golden State Warriors take seriously any allegations of harassment," Welts said in a statement. "Let me make this extremely clear: The Warriors strive every day to provide a comfortable and professional work environment for all of our employees."
Welts then gave the Warriors spin:
"When we were made aware of a consensual relationship between Mr. Ellis and the Plaintiff, we did what an organization should do. We told both to stop -- promptly, directly and fairly. The Warriors have never taken any action against the Plaintiff for any inappropriate reason, and we deny the allegations she is making.
"We live in a litigious society in which lawsuits too frequently are driven by money and not the pursuit of justice. We will vigorously defend the reputation of the Warriors organization in the courts. We don't plan to make any further comment about the details of the case."
2010-11 Results: 36-46, third in Pacific; Missed playoffs.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Monta Ellis SG- Stephen Curry SF- Dorell Wright PF- David Lee C- Kwame Brown
FRONTCOURT: Signed as a bit of a reclamation project by Bobcats owner Michael Jordan last season, Brown contributed 7.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game along with sound low post defense in Charlotte. The Warriors are hoping for something similar from Brown this season and think his defensive presence can erase mistakes and open things up even further for Lee on the boards.
"If you looked at Kwame Brown like Chris Webber as a No. 1 overall pick, then you don't think of him as a solid basketball player," said NBA TV analyst Greg Anthony. "But if you look at Kwame Brown for what he is able and capable of doing, he's a nice acquisition because he can defend the rim. He's one of the best post-defenders in our league. That's the biggest weakness that Golden State has. His game is not about statistics, it is about impact."
Lee, of course, is an effort player with skill. One of the league's best pure rebounders and a more than capable finisher around the rim, Lee will be helped by having a legitimate big bodied defender next door.
Dorell Wright is the type of role player that will be expected to make open shots and bring defense on the perimeter every night, something ignored in these parts for far too long.
BACKCOURT: The Warriors have gone without a conventional lead guard and let the explosive Ellis handle the bulk of the point guard duties. Jackson, however, was as conventional as it got when he played so Ellis, who needs to play more consistent defense and become more of a leader, is seemingly always on the trading block. His personal situation certainly doesn't help his future prospects in Oakland.
Curry walked into the NBA as one of the best pure shooters in the game. He's a combo guard that can also handle the ball so Ellis and he will be virtually interchangeable at times. A nagging ankle injury could be a concern, however.
BENCH: At one time Latvian born Andris Biedrins was one of the league's underrated big men and a nightly double-double threat. He's never going to be a defensive intimidator but lingering ankle injuries have derailed Biedrins' progress at both ends. If healthy, Biedrins is a solid fit for an up-tempo offense that relies on a center's ability to move the ball. His free throw shooting, however, is miserable.
"I want him to make them, but at the end of the day, it's overrated," Jackson said of Biedrins' struggles from the charity stripe. "He's going to be at the foul line two or three times a game. Make or miss, how much does it matter if he's rebounding, if he's blocking shots, if he's finishing at the rim?"
The Warriors are really impressed by rookie Klay Thompson, the second best pure shooter in the 2011 draft behind Jimmer Fredette. He strikes me as a tweener, however -- not enough lateral quickness to handle twos at the defensive end and not enough strength to check threes.
Ekpe Udoh shot up the board in the final days of the 2010 draft but struck me as a bit of a reach by a troubled franchise lacking leadership at the time. Of course, any player with a defensive mindset is welcome in Oakland and Udoh has the wingspan of a 7-foot-4 player and could develop into an elite shot- blocker somewhere down the line.
The Warriors also picked up some much needed depth at shooting guard days before the season when they acquired Brandon Rush from the Indiana Pacers in exchange for forward Lou Amundson. The 6-foot-6 Rush, 26, appeared in 67 games (21 starts) for the Pacers last season, averaging 9.1 points and 3.2 rebounds and certainly helps fill a void.
COACHING: Jackson is an impressive person and anyone that has ever spent any time around him raves. That said, he's never coached before at any level and he's sure to have some growing pains. One thing is certain, however, Jackson brings a plan to an organization that has lacked one for years.
"When you talk about the Warriors, there was an unbelievable hire in Mark Jackson," NBA TV analyst Steve Smith said. "The Warriors have done a great job. The focus is on defense and to win championships that is what you have to do. He (Jackson) is bringing an element that has not been there in the past. When you start talking about winning in the playoffs - and winning a championship - you have to play a little defense. Maybe Kwame Brown is not Tyson Chandler but that is a good start for the Warriors to begin thinking with that (defensive) mindset."
OUTLOOK: Young legs may be the Warriors greatest strength, especially in this lockout-shortened 66-game season, heavy on back-to-back games. It's clear by the organization's coveting of players like Chris Paul, Nene and Jordan that Jackson would eventually like a more traditional point guard and defensive- minded club.
However, if he can mask his deficiencies now and get the most out of his young scorers the Warriors could make a run at one of the last playoffs spot in the West.
"You know, we got a great head coach, Mark Jackson. It's a new environment and we can just feel it," Ellis said. "We just have to take advantage of our schedule that we have. We have the first four home games here [in Oakland]. It's set for us to start off and really take advantage of the opportunity that we have."